When London Became An Island

On leaving Warwick Avenue Tube station (hope you are not as upset as Duffy) by turning right at the top of the escalator you will see you are in a wide road flanked by villas. The area has always offered opportunities for the Hackney Carriage and a stand for black cabs lies close by as does an old cabman’s shelter (1), which probably dates from the pre-motor age. If you walk up Warwick Avenue you will come to the junction with Blomfield Road. The Regents Canal runs off to the left, but it is worth taking a stroll around the triangular pool of water lying to the right. This is sometimes called Browning's Pool, after the Victorian poet Robert Browning who lived close by in the 1860s. The island in the middle is also called Browning's Island.

If you follow Blomfield Road to the right you will see moored barges that are home to several enterprises including Jason’s Trip and the London Waterbus. The annual Canal Cavalcade, which has been running since 1983, is also held here (2).


It was fairly clear from the time the pool was created that fine houses built on the banks would command a premium and the nearby row of villas were some of the first to be built in the area. At Westbourne Terrace Road turn left and walk over the bridge. Below you will see the conduit for canal trade between London and the Midlands, which is the Paddington branch of the Grand Union Canal (3). This was the Grand Junction Canal until absorbed by the Grand Union in 1929. A little beyond the bridge you can turn left again (after noting the Canal Cafe Theatre on the corner of Delamere Terrace) and walk down to the towpath that runs beside the basin, passing the floating Waterside Café and Information Centre (4), which might be a perfect place to treat yourself before you start the walk. I must admit to having a low resistance to places like the Waterside and if I had to choose between the hand that set free the world or a cup of good coffee I might be tempted to take the coffee!

Following the towpath further you will probably become aware of increased noise from traffic and if you look up you will see why. A bridge carries Harrow Road over the canal and above it a flyover carries the Westway. The Westway was built in the 1960's, which was a great time for ripping out the inner parts of English cities to make new motorway-style roads. Much more soothing are two rows of bubbles that span the Grand Union at this point. A nearby notice indicates that, rather than being a wildlife jacuzzi, it is actually a bubble gate installed to help keep the canal clear of debris. The area beyond has now been developed with offices, shops, restaurants and residential apartments and goes under the name Paddington Central. The canal itself, which ends a short distance away at Paddington Basin, is looked after by the Canal and River Trust but I am not sure to whom the nearby oversize and rather intimidating statues belong (5).

A footbridge will take you on to the other side of the Grand Union and you can walk back to the start of the Regents Canal through Rembrandt Gardens, a pleasant, tranquil little park established to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the founding of Amsterdam.

Leaving the gardens and turning left on Warwick Avenue will bring you back to the Regents Canal. Running from this point to Limehouse, the waterway divides both north and east London.

In the spring of 1820 it was anticipated the canal would be fully opened from Paddington through to Limehouse in the summer and plans were finalised for a grand opening ceremony. However, on the August 12th 1816, the Prince Regent’s birthday, a small flotilla of five barges had celebrated the opening of trade along part of the summit level. It was hoped that the whole canal could soon be completed, but an economic downturn combined with the results of unrealistic cost projections and a shortage of cash led to the suspension of work on the line. Only a government backed loan, facilitated through an agency, allowed the canal to be completed and if that had not been forthcoming it is rather doubtful if money to save the project could have been raised elsewhere. Perhaps this rescue should have been reflected in the name of the new waterway but the Commission for the Issue of Exchequer Bills doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily as Regents.

For the first stretch of the walk, up to Edgware Road, you can choose to walk along the north side, on Blomfield Road, or on the south, on Maida Avenue. If you are very concerned about status remember the Road is in W9, but the Avenue is in W2. And so too are the post boxes that serve the boats on the south side of the residential moorings. We are going to put a virtual foot forward in Maida Avenue. Looking over the railings you will see the old toll keepers' house (6). As water was such a precious commodity a lock to regulate the flow from the Grand Junction to the Regents Canal was built close by. This caused problems for a Mr Hatton, who established a business offering boat trips soon after the first stretch of the Regents Canal was opened. He found he could not turn his boat around when he arrived at the end of the summit level of the Regents and, although it would have been easy in the wider waters beyond the regulating lock, pleaded in vain for permission to pass there without charge.

When looking over the railings at the toll keepers' house on a 'bi-centennial celebration' walk I noticed a pleasure boat named Lady A passing by. It had services advertised on a roof-top sign (7). One offered the boat as a venue for Marriage Proposals and another for Wedding Receptions. I am sure that you, like me, would love to know how many bookings for the first have lead on to one for the second.

The towpath between the old toll keepers' house and the entrance to Maida Hill tunnel is now used as a residential mooring, but we will walk along Maida Avenue. The name Little Venice is often given to this whole area and a number of famous people connected with showbiz, including the actress Lillie Langtree, a mistress of King Edward the Seventh, have been attracted to live in the vicinity. Note the blue plaque on the house in photo 8 and you will see it indicates that John Masefield, Poet Laureate, once lived there. 'Twilight. Red in the West.' begins one of his poems. He could have seen many western twilights from the second floor of this house. Further along another dwelling was, according to the plaque erected by the Dead Comics Society (now the British Comedy Society), home to Arthur Lowe. Arthur Lowe found fame as Mr Swindley in Coronation Street (anybody remember Miss Nugent?) in black and white TV days and then as Captain Mannering in Dad's Army.

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